A group of Democrats including members of the Congressional Black Caucus is privately urging Rep. John Conyers to resign after a third former staffer went public with allegations of sexual harassment against the longtime Michigan Democrat, according to congressional sources.
Members of the CBC are pressing Conyers to step down after 53 years in office, telling him that fellow Democrats are expected to come out and publicly demand he resign. Reps. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have already done so, and additional Democratic lawmakers were expected to join them as the House returned from the weeklong Thanksgiving break on Tuesday night.
Conyers was meeting with CBC members late Tuesday afternoon to discuss his future, according to several lawmakers who attended. The CBC was expected to issue a statement on the matter Tuesday night.
“I’m going to let him make his decision,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), the CBC chairman. “We had a lengthy discussion.”
When asked whether he pushed Conyers to resign, RIchmond said, “I did not ask him to resign.” RIchomnd
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) said, “Only he can determine his future.”
Conyers did not attend the House votes on Tuesday night, although he was in Washington. Reporters later tweeted a phote of Conyers taking a flight back to Detroit.
There is a divide within the CBC over Conyers, a longtime friend and ally to many of the lawmakers. Some want Conyers to resign immediately, believing that the harassment allegations are credible and the Michigan Democrat can no longer represent his constituents.
Others are upset the Conyers’ allegations were first passed to BuzzFeed by a conservative activist who has been involved in ugly conspiracy theories. And still other CBC members feel the Ethics Committee should be allowed to undertake its investigation and report to the House what it turns up before any further steps are taken.
Watching this all is the Democratic leadership and other rank-and-file party members. Many of these lawmakers admit to Conyers’ long list of accomplishments, yet they privately grumble he has been in office too long and should have left already.
Former aides to Conyers have also gotten involved in the efforts to persuade their former boss to leave Congress, said Democratic insiders..
“There is an effort to convince him to leave now,” said a Democratic aide familiar with the discussions. “They are telling him he needs to do this for his legacy and all that he has worked for over the years.”
Conyers has stepped down from his post as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee in the face of a House Ethics Committee investigation. This latest accusation — the third involving a former female staffer for Conyers — will test whether Democrats will continue to back a once-esteemed colleague who now faces multiple claims of sexual harassment.
The 88-year-old Conyers is the dean of the House, having first been elected to Congress in 1964. He co-founded the CBC.
There is a sense among top Democrats that more allegations might be coming.
“The actions and subsequent deflections from the growing tide of sexual harassment cases in Congress not only hurt individual women, but they undermine our institution of democracy,” Jayapal said in a statement. “It is not easy for me to reach this conclusion because, as a civil rights activist, I have looked up to Rep. Conyers for decades. I believe these women, I see the pattern and there is only one conclusion — Mr. Conyers must resign.”
The resignation calls come after a frantic week for Conyers, one that has damaged his reputation both on Capitol Hill and back home in Detroit.
Deanna Maher, who ran Conyers’ Detroit field office from 1997 until 2005, told The Detroit News that the longtime congressman made three unwanted sexual advances toward her, including instances of inappropriate touching.
In a 1997 incident, Maher says she rejected an offer from Conyers to stay in his Washington hotel room and have sex. In two other episodes — in 1998 and 1999 — Maher claimed Conyers touched her inappropriately, including on her legs under her dress.
In the 1998 accusation, Maher said Conyers was driving along Interstate 75 as she rode in the passenger seat. Maher said the lawmaker was “trying to feel me up” and tickle her on her neck, causing him to drive erratically and be pulled over by the police.
Maher said her age — she was 57 when Conyers allegedly harassed her the first time — kept her from coming forward. Maher was fearful she would not be able to find new employment if she lost her job with Conyers.
“I didn’t report the harassment because it was clear nobody wanted to take it seriously,” said Maher, now 77. “John Conyers is a powerful man in Washington, and nobody wanted to cross him.”
Maher also said she reported to the Ethics Committee and the Justice Department an alleged 2001 sexual assault by a male Conyers staffer. It is unclear whether Conyers was aware of this incident.
Maher had earlier told reporters from The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press about Conyers’ inappropriate behavior, but she declined to go on the record with her account, and no stories were ever written. One Free Press reporter, Joel Thurtell, recalled Maher telling him about Conyers’ alleged behavior at the time.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other top Democrats have said they will wait for the Ethics Committee to complete its probe before deciding whether to take action against Conyers.
Pelosi was widely criticized for an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend in which she called the Michigan Democrat “an icon” and said he had supported legislation backing women’s rights.
Pelosi spoke with another former Conyers aide, Melanie Sloan, who has publicly accused him of harsh treatment. Pelosi called the behavior described by Sloan “unacceptable.”
An attorney for Conyers told The Detroit News that the lawmaker denies all allegations of wrongdoing and called Maher’s claims uncorroborated. He also questioned why the congressman’s former deputy chief of staff remained in her position for so many years after the alleged incidents.
Last week, BuzzFeed reported that Conyers settled a sexual harassment claim with an unnamed former staffer in 2015, paying the former aide $27,000 out of the congressional account normally used to cover office expenses. Another aide, Maria Reddick, filed a lawsuit against Conyers earlier this year alleging numerous instances of sexual harassment but later dropped her legal action. Reddick has not responded to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
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